Short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) are a class of bronchodilators used to treat asthma symptoms quickly. They are primarily inhaled via a rescue inhaler or a nebulizer. You can take them at the first signs of an asthma attack.
While SABAs are an important part of any asthma treatment plan, they shouldn’t be relied on as your primary form of treatment.
Here’s what you need to know about SABAs, how they are used, and when you should consider other medications to help manage your asthma.
SABA medications belong to a class of drugs known as bronchodilators. They relax the small muscles in your bronchial tubes (airways) to help dilate, or open them, making it easier for you to breathe. Also, if you have excess mucus in your airways, SABAs can help you cough it up more freely.
SABA medications are one of the most effective ways to get immediate relief for airflow obstruction, especially in people with asthma.
A doctor may recommend a SABA medication to help prevent asthma attacks. During an asthma attack, your airways become inflamed and constrict, making it harder to breathe. Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- chest tightness
- quicker breathing
- difficulty taking in a full breath
Most asthma attacks are mild and can be treated with a SABA medication at home. However, how long they last can depend on what’s triggering them. include:
Do all people with asthma need SABAs?
Traditionally, SABAs are recommended for everyone who has asthma in case of emergency asthma attack symptoms. This usually comes in the form of a quick-relief (rescue) inhaler, which may also be used before exercising in the case of exercise-induced asthma.
However, in recent years, researchers have raised concerns about using SABAs in such a manner because of possible over-reliance.
Why is SABA-only treatment not recommended?
SABAs are meant to help provide quick relief from asthma symptoms only on an occasional basis. Overusing SABAs has been linked to worsening asthma symptoms and poor outcomes overall.
Also, if you find yourself needing a SABA medication more than twice a week, this could indicate your treatment plan is not working. You may need to talk with a doctor to make changes to your asthma treatment plan.
SABA medications — particularly generic versions — are typically covered by medical insurance as well as Medicare.
While the exact cost may vary by insurance, pharmacy, and region, you may be able to buy a generic SABA inhaler for as low as $8 per prescription.
Anyone with asthma should consider having a rescue inhaler on hand in case they encounter asthma triggers and need quick relief from symptoms.
In some cases, these medications can be lifesaving. Your doctor will prescribe the best SABA for you as part of your asthma treatment plan.
You may also be a good candidate for SABA medications if you:
In most cases, take your rescue inhaler as soon as you start experiencing symptoms of an asthma attack. SABA medications may also be taken to help prevent exercise-induced asthma 15 to 30 minutes before vigorous exercise.
SABA medications may be used as part of an asthma treatment plan to help alleviate symptoms quickly in the case of an asthma attack. If you have exercise-induced asthma, a doctor may also recommend using a quick-relief inhaler before vigorous activities.
Still, SABAs aren’t the only asthma treatment option available, and they may cause adverse side effects when used regularly for asthma management.
If you’re having difficulty managing your asthma, talk with your doctor about your current asthma treatment plan and whether any modifications need to be made.